Festina Lente

Over the last few years I've been enjoying the onset of late-middle age. I need reading glasses. Injuries I would have shaken off some years ago now nearly kill me. And I can never quite remember the right word for things anymore.


Facts and stories and the names of state capitals and such... they all seem to have evaporated with time, leaving me with this ever-present, vague sense that I used to be quite clever once, but even the moment where it all went wrong seems to have escaped me.


I was reminded, yesterday, of something I used to know once. Something I loved the idea of so much that I got it tattooed on my leg. Though, I suppose, since it's on my outer shin, a place not easy to see... well... it just got forgotten.


Festina Lente.


Some Roman general or another (probably just called Augustus... they were all fucking Augustus) insisted it to his commanders.


"Make haste slowly," more or less. More broadly speaking it means, "Don't be a brash idiot who rushes into things without thinking and getting a bunch of your troops killed."

Another way I've heard of saying this is, "Slow is smooth and smooth is fast."


It's a bit of advice I find myself needing to repeat time and time and time again during each and every class I teach.


I'm sure there's some form of performance anxiety involved for any student. They've had something explained, they've practiced it a couple of times in the workshop or in the parking lot. They've probably thought it over and over and over in their heads as they've let the jungle sounds of XOC-Ha lull them to sleep.


And then, all the sudden, "DO THE THING! RIGHT NOW!"


And instead of breaking any task down into steps, triaging a problem and working together as a team to solve it there's this impulse to "DO THE THING! ALL AT ONCE! EVERY SINGLE STEP CONCURRENTLY!!! NOW! NOW! NOW!"


They throw the entire solution at the wall all at once, generally making a great, big mess. Fishing in their pocket for something while trying to manipulate a valve while avoiding pinballing off the ceiling and floor or getting wrapped in the line, all the while trying to signal for their team who are behind them and swimming towards the exit. And after all that is when it really starts to go haywire.


Then we get to the surface, or we go back to the classroom for video debrief. We parse it out as the student looks sheepish about their performance.

And I ask, "What would have made everything easier?"


Invariably the answer is, "Slow down and think things through."


Buoyancy, trim, and control first.

Awareness of the line, the cave, and the team next.

Then and only then do we get to the task at hand. Which starts by deciding what the first step of that task is. Then the next step. Then the next. And so on.


Yes, it's a problem in an underwater cave. Yes it needs to be handled quickly. But the quickest way to handle it is to slow the fuck down.


Hasten slowly.


Festina lente.


Since Roman times this was symbolised by a dolphin (embodying swiftness) wrapped around an anchor (the gravity of moderation). It's a variation of the famous printer's imprint here I've got on my leg.


I was grateful for the reminder that it's there as I hasten slowly into old age.





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